When discussing bad movies, especially those that went on to win razzies, Battlefield Earth is always going to come up at some point. Yes, the movie cobbled together from an L Ron Hubbard novel and John Travolta’s weird perception as to what makes a good movie, that not only went on to win worst picture of the decade, but had its razzies picked up in person by the screenwriter of the movie, who considered it well deserved.
And watching the movie, I can honestly say, you can understand why.
Battlefield Earth is no ordinary bad movie. It is one of the most intriguing disasters I have ever watched. See, bad movies tend to come in three categories: boringly bad (Fantastic Four), atrociously bad (Movie 43) or so-bad-it’s-good (The Room). Yet Battlefield Earth manages to fit into all of these categories simultaneously. The plot and events are mind numbingly boring, to the point where when something bizarre and frankly amazingly inept happens (which is a common occurrence), you suddenly wonder what the fuck is going on after having zoned out, and are now laughing because of how nonsensical literally everything is.
So, what is the plot then?
Well, we start off with, once again, a plot that kind of had potential. On some kind of post apocalyptic earth setting, humanity is now primitive and believes they displeased the gods, and so the gods sent demons after them. The notion that these demons were actually alien invaders all along could have been an interesting idea and plot point. If, you know, the title crawl hadn’t explained everything that’s going on from the beginning.
So, we are introduced to our hero, Johnny, in a way that looks as though they forgot to feature the scene that actually introduces him. Or the rest of his civilisation for that matter. We soon are made to realise that Johnny is an idiot. And also, every other human is even more of an idiot. And every conversation the humans will have is either mind-numbingly boring or stupid as all hell. Especially those involving a character that I can only really describe as “piece of cake” guy (it kind of makes sense in context).
Johnny meets some humans, and they seek shelter from the “demons” that hunt them at night. But apparently this was completely pointless as one such “demon appears and starts shooting the worst laser sfx imaginable at them. You know how in Star Wars the blaster shots are bright neon blue so you can always see them? Well here they’re pale transparent yellow, and often small enough that you can only barely notice them. Considering they stole the screenwipe transitions from Star Wars (in a way that just looks dub and not cheesy enough to work) you’d have thought they would have picked up on that.
So Johnny and co are captured easily, and we are introduced to the Psychlos.
Allow me to explain the Psychlos. First, in order to make them look taller than the humans the costume designers gave them overly gigantic shoes, along with giant dreadlocked heads and furry monster hands. But that my friends is only the beginning. You know how a lot of alien species in other media is defined by one universal trait? Like how the Klingons are proud-warrior-race-guys, and the Vulcans are emotionless beings of logic? The Psychlos universal trait is that they’re all idiotic jerkbags.
And then we get to the main villain of this movie, Terl, an incredibly hammy Psychlo played by John Travolta, along with his sidekick Ker. Now given John Travolta was, in fact, taking this movie very seriously, I can’t help but question what he was thinking with his performance as Terl. Because honestly, these two act like villains you’d find in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon.
Contrary to popular belief, Krang did not make his movie debut in TMNT 2: out of the shadows.
So, about twenty minutes in and the most plot this movie has given us is the fact that Terl hasn’t gotten the promotion he wanted. Again, I’m not sure what anyone was really going for with the Psychlos. Every scene of them seems to just have them discussing boring bureaucratic business then laughing at each others’ misfortune. Even ignoring the ridiculousness of them and their giant shoes, they feel more like the race that would play henchmen to the evil all-conquering race, just doing their business work that none of the proud warrior race guys can be bothered to do. There is nothing intimidating about them at all.
Back to the human plot, Johnny proves just how incompetent the Psychlos are by making an escape attempt. Terl then shows up, and kills the guards because he wants to train humans to mine for gold in an area that is surrounded by Uranium. You see, Psychlos have come from a planet that has an atmosphere that is so badly affected by radiation that setting off a nuclear bomb there would destroy literally the entire planet. Oh, yeah, spoiler alert.
So, okay, radiation will kill any psychlo, and we’re expected to believe that the humans who survived their initial attack had no way of just nuking them all? Hell, these things could be killed by a catapult that fires lumps of Uranium at them. Hw does this make sense? How does any of it make sense? How does their atmosphere even work at all? How does any of the so-called-science in this movie work?
Just replace goggles with nose clips and it makes about as much sense
Johnny is taught the language of the Psychlos so that they can convey orders through him. And he gets an idea to find a nuclear weapon and teleport it to the Psychlos’ home planet and nuke it into oblivion due to its weird anti-radiation atmosphere. I know a lot of other stuff happens but this film’s plot is so dull that half the time I’m wondering where the hell the characters are and how they got there because I’ve zoned out so much.
I won’t spoil the ending for you. Not just because I think you should go and watch it for yourself, because I don’t, but because this film ends on a fight scene that is so poorly lit and colour graded that I actually couldn’t figure out what was going on half the time. It was so dark I couldn’t see which side had the dreadlocks and comedically large shoes, therefore couldn’t tell who was “winning”. All I can say is that the so called “advanced” Psychlos are defeated more or less by falling debris (which, given just how dumb they all are, I have no trouble accepting). In fact to put into perspective just how dumb the psychlos are, allow me to explain how Johnny defeats Terl. Earlier on in the movie Terl puts an explosive device around the neck of a woman I think is supposed to be Johnny’s girlfriend, to threaten Johnny. Johnny later does a deal with Ker to get the device removed, and hangs onto it. During their final fight, Johnny quite clear clamps the device to Terl’s arm, something Terl does not question or even so much as notice. Johnny fools Terl into activating the device; THE DEVICE NOW CLEARLY ATTACHED TO HIS ARM, and he does, blowing it off. Also Johnny and his sacrificial friend Mickey commit mass genocide of the Planet Psychlo.
Now, you may have noticed that the story of this movie is a little hard to follow. Well, this is not helped by the godawful cinematography that has almost become infamous. In fact, if you’ve heard of this movie, you’re probably familiar with the fact that virtually every single shot is at a weird angle, which makes it hard to focus and navigate just what the hell is happening. And that’s not even starting on the random shots of meaningless crap that occasionally appear for five seconds, or the awful cliched green and blue washed colour schemes.
Folks, Battlefield Earth is one of the most bizarrely bad movies I have ever encountered. It is so inept, so boring, so fantastically bad, that part of me isn’t sure whether to recommend you actually check it out or not. Is it funny? Yes. Is it overly long and tedious? Yes. Is it something that will simply get a reaction that is indescribable and makes you wonder what on earth anyone involved in it was thinking? Oh yes.
All I can say is, if you are going to watch this movie for any reason, any reason at all, watch it for the scene where Terl walks into the ceiling. That is undeniably some of the greatest comedy gold I have ever encountered.